Virtual selling Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay The age of physical face-to-face sales meetings is over. This is the main finding in a report by Showpad, the global leader in sales enablement technology. If that is the case, it signals a huge shift in sales practices over the last two years. Face to Face meetings no longer have to deal with travel time with the advent of video conferencing. Salespeople can move from meeting to meeting in an instant. The change is also buyer-driven. That does not mean that this is all beneficial, though.

The Showpad research covered Germany, the UK, and the US. It found that the change to virtual is consistent across all three countries, with around nine in ten buyers preferring a virtual selling experience, Germany 88%, the UK 87% and the US 86%.

Does everyone want to procure virtually?

The shift to a virtual buying experience sits most comfortably with the younger generations, which aligns with other research. 92% of millennials and GenZ buyers in the US prefer virtual selling. However for over 55’s the percentage falls, in the UK, to only 71%. It seems that ever the older generation is embracing technology.

There are variances across the buyer landscape. In London, 93% prefer virtual engagements. This is perhaps because those buyers are no longer working in the office. It would be difficult to understand the exact reason without qualitative research. Perhaps surprisingly, for those spending more than $12 million, 69% still prefer to work remotely in the US. It is unknown whether this is buying through existing relationships or new ones

Research in the professional services market has shown that initial meetings are often face-to-face, even if others are virtual. A physical meeting is required in that sector for the initial relationship building. Further research into that would be informative and, if required, would mean that sales training would need to include training for both physical and virtual engagements. The other fact missing from this report is understanding if there is an underlying trend. Is virtual buying declining since COVID lockdowns or increasing?

Hendrik Isebaert, CEO of Showpad
Hendrik Isebaert, CEO of Showpad

Hendrik Isebaert, CEO of Showpad, commented: “The sales rep is a quintessential part of the business and sales and revenue generation will always be the heart of a company. However, the role of salespeople must evolve to meet buyer needs.

“While there will always be space for face-to-face selling, in today’s hybrid working environment, buyers are gravitating more and more toward virtual buying and sales reps need to equip themselves with the right tools to keep up. Modern selling needs to be tailored and buyer-led to deliver optimal buyer experiences and lead to greater conversion rates.”

Is buying changing?

Despite the preferences noted above, there is no perfect solution. The results from the survey are numerous and, at times, confusing. Showpad might have been better spent the time to produce a considered report with graphics to indicate the results. What is clear is that the number of selling channels is increasing, though at the rate within B2C selling.

Face to Face

A significant proportion, 38% in the UK and 41% in Germany, made the majority of purchases in person. In the US, 51% purchased through in-person meetings. In the UK, men (44%) favour buying more than women (32%). Perhaps surprisingly and perhaps contradicting the fact that they prefer purchasing face to face, those aged 45-54 are less likely to purchase face to face that those under 34 (47-48%).

In the US, the industry breakdown showed that some organisations still prefer face-to-face meetings.

  • Manufacturing and engineering (60%)
  • Technology (64%)
  • Construction (57%)
  • Insurance (50%).

There are still important reasons for face-to-face meetings during the buying cycle. The majority (Germany 61%, the UK 54%, US 66%) prefer to see the physical products before buying them, with many also wanting a demonstration in their office (Germany 20%, the UK 24%, US 34%).

The question is whether face meetings are required for the initial meeting. Enterprise Times asked Showpad this question, and Isabaert replied:

“The infrastructure around hybrid selling [i.e. sales enablement technology] is now so effective that, for many industries, in-person meetings are no longer integral to building a customer rapport at any stage of the sales journey.

“With virtual deal rooms, augmented reality tooling, and inbuilt analysis that helps buyers to understand their customers better, hybrid selling will outperform face to face sales in many industries e.g. tech.”

That isn’t the case for every industry, with Isabaert explaining: “That said, there are industries such as Manufacturing, where the look, feel and evaluation of a tangible product need to happen face to face. It can also prove beneficial for a sales rep to gain access on to the Manufacturing ‘shop floor’ so that they can better understand how to apply their products to the benefit of the customer.

“In those instances, hybrid selling still has a role to play e.g. with interactive [sales enablement] presentations that can pivot depending on customer need, challenge or pain point – but those interactions are still likely to take place in person

“Ultimately, it’s about sales reps cultivating a relationship that puts the customer first, supported by technology that enables the seller to meet customer preference.”

Virtual channels

The research highlighted the popularity of consumer-facing platforms for B2B purchases, which will surprise many. There was no breakdown of which industries most used them but some analysis by age.

Germany UK US
Instagram 69 44 57
YouTube 48 44 48
TikTok 47 39 Unknown
Facebook 46 52 69
LinkedIn 16 28 26


What is interesting is that LinkedIn is used for purchasing by 64% of those over 55. Facebook rises to 63% for those aged 45-55. The inference is different generations have preferred channels, which increases sellers’ complexity.

The Metaverse is also growing in popularity. Showpad did not explain the Metaverse, but its question also includes sales enabled via augmented reality. Over half (UK 51%, Germany 64%, US 59%) have made a business purchase after receiving a presentation or demo in the Metaverse. This trend is expected to grow with buyers looking to purchase more over the next three years through social media and the Metaverse.

Isebaert added: “The role of technology – no doubt hastened by the pandemic – is offering benefits for both buyers and sellers alike, leading to a more blended, hybrid approach to selling which involves both digital and face-to-face interactions.

“For those in the business of sales, if you don’t offer the channels and methods through which buyers want to purchase today and in the future, while taking advantage of the efficiencies technology can offer, there is a danger of falling behind.”

Sales Tactics must change

The final part of the research looked at the perception of salespeople. It is not good news. Only 5% (US) and 3% (UK and Germany) believe that salespeople meet their needs all the time. The issues vary, but many are familiar

Persistent sellers not taking ‘no’ for an answer even once it’s been made clear they are not interested:

  • persistent calls and messages (33% Germany, 47% US and UK)
  • hassling after a presentation (31% US)
  • Salespeople not knowing their products (27% US, 29% UK and Germany)
  • salespeople just send too much information over (24% US)
  • cite issues with arrogance or overconfidence on the part of the salesperson (UK 28% Germany 18%)

There is still a huge gap for a sales enablement platform to help sales teams to provide the right content at the right time with the right level of engagement. While the above is related to all sales, issues are also highlighted in the US research around virtual selling. They offer some interesting tips.

  • Sellers following scripts or distracted
  • A messy or untidy background
  • walking away from the screen during the sales presentation
  • Not connecting over video

Enterprise Times: What does this mean

There are some interesting findings in this research. Three items stand out:

  1. B2C social media is becoming a tool B2B buyers want to use. The concept of consumer technology coming into the business is not new. Though perhaps unexpected by some, it is happening.
  2. The Metaverse is becoming increasingly popular, and that interest will only increase as metaverse environments become increasingly complex and useful.
  3. There have been a lot of changes in how people want to buy. Sales enablement tools are even more important during this period of change and give a chance for leaders to reset their sales organisations. However, they must not forget the more traditional best practices in favour of new ones as both are relevant.


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